Shiny Pointy Things and the M.C. Lilley Company

Knife Collection: M.C. Lilley Sword Hilt

About a week ago, I was called upon by an edged weapons collector to photograph his stash of pointy things for insurance purposes. Most of the photos aren’t terribly visually interesting, since they are meant to be just matter-of-fact documents of the quality of the item and the maker’s marks. However, a few of them turned out to be nice images, so I got permission to post them.

I sadly don’t have a lot of historical context for most of these items, so I don’t offhand know a whole lot about the item in the photo above. It’s a showy piece of craftsmanship, full of intricate carving on both the hilt and the blade. The maker’s stamp bought my curiosity, though, so I went a-searching on the web for the M. C. Lilley Company.

From the Columbus Metropolitan Library:

Founded in the mid-1860s, the M. C. Lilley Company was world renowned as manufacturers of regalia. Regalia is defined as magnificent attire, finery.” Besides ceremonial swords, the Lilley Company produced banners, flags, emblems and uniforms for fraternal societies and organizations such as the Mason Fellows, Knights of Pythias and policemen. Lilley also supplied the U. S. Marine Corps and the cadets of West Point and Annapolis with swords. During World War II the company made thousands of machetes for Dutch troops. There is even a story of one of the swords being recovered from Pearl Harbor in great condition. Their goods were shipped all over the United States, Canada and even Australia.

A short biography of Mitchell Campbell Lilley reveals more about the history of the company, as well as a bit about the boom in American fraternal organizations between the Civil War and the end of World War I. Oddly, the regalia company started out as a publishing house:

The publishing house distributed forms and ledger books for the fraternal groups. It also published the Odd Fellows Companion, a newsletter featuring fictional stories and reports of membership and lodge statistics that were submitted by the chapters. Charles Lindenberg was the salesman for the Companion, and traveled the country selling subscriptions.

Soon, however, subscribers began asking where they could find the ornate uniforms and accessories worn by chapters they read about in the periodical. The business owners capitalized on this unsolicited piece of reader response.

The company decided it would broker and make those goods plus whatever else could be made in their shop. A debate within the Odd Fellows eventually propelled M.C. Lilley into becoming the maker and supplier of everything fraternal.


Growth forced the company to move from its South High Street location to 27 W. Gay St. in 1882 and to Sixth and Long streets 10 years later. A state report in 1887 showed Columbus with 58 manufacturing companies and 48 of them employed at least 40 people. M.C. Lilley had a staff of 420 and was the second-largest manufacturer in the city. Company promotional materials some 30 years later claimed it employed in excess of 1,000.

After the fraternal boom died down, the M. C. Lilley Company merged with another company in 1931, which then was absorbed into another regalia company in 1950.

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